It’s going to be tough to see Larry Johnson on Ohio State’s sideline when the Buckeyes make the trip to Beaver Stadium on October 25. It will probably to tough for Johnson, too, who has spent the last 18 seasons in Happy Valley and had three children graduate from Penn State, including two football players (Larry Jr., 1999-2002, Tony, 2000-2003).
He’s part of the Penn State family, and that distinction will always stay with him. But his move to Ohio State to become Urban Meyer’s assistant head coach has some people understandably miffed. His son Tony opened up about his father’s decision to become a Buckeye to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
You can read the full article here — there are some interesting quotes about the night Meyer called the Johnson house to offer him the job — but here’s the Q&A portion of the interview.
On whether he felt his father should have been offered the head coaching job at Penn State
“Me personally, being his son, I think he would have been a helluva head coach. There’s a lot of people that say he wasn’t a defensive coordinator, so he can’t jump up to the head coach from a position coach. But if you know my father, and the players that were in that locker room did, my father is a leader.
“I thought my dad was one special individual who could go from position coach to leading a team out of the tunnel on Saturday. I think a lot of other people feel the same way. I don’t want to keep tooting my dad’s own horn, but I know I’m lucky enough to have him as my father.
“One time in Pop Warner my coaches asked him to come over and give a motivational speech. We were 9 years old and my dad gave us a speech where I felt like he was talking directly to me, and I had tears running down my face. And we ran 250 yards back to the football field to play the game and went out and won. That’s the type of guy he is.
“When he speaks, people listen. And it’s not about your credentials, it’s who you are as a person – if you believe in yourself. Knowing what type of person my dad was, I think he would have been a helluva coach here. But the administration and people decided to go a different route, which is OK. And I think my dad is OK with that. I think he really is moving forward with another chapter and I think he’s going to bring a lot to Ohio State.”
On why his father turned down the chance to remain the defensive line coach under new Penn State coach James Franklin
“I think his attitude was, ‘Hey, if I don’t get the head job, I think my run here is done.’ Because with the whole new coaching staff with a whole new philosophy, I think my dad knew this guy has guys he wants to bring in, so let me see what else is out there.
“It wasn’t that he was upset he didn’t get the head job, but some people know when the time is right to move on. There’s no point to holding on to something when it’s not there any more.”
On his father’s strong reputation as a recruiter among high school coaches
“His father was very strict and demanding. My dad grew up on a farm and he had to slop the pigs and feed the cows before going to school every morning. So I think he understood at an early age if you want something done the right way, you’ve got to do it yourself.
“One of the things he says is, ‘If I tell you the truth, can we still be friends?’ I think people appreciate that, because you don’t hear that in today’s world, especially the recruiting area. My dad doesn’t promise something he can’t deliver on.
“As much as I love my dad, he can be tough. I think tough love is what makes you the person you are.”
On the Johnson family’s relationship with Penn State
“Our roots are here. Without Penn State, none of our dreams would have come true. It was a task for my dad to give up a great opportunity years back to come here and coach, not really understanding the culture at that point. But living here and coaching at Penn State, it grew on you, just like I’m pretty sure it grows on you in Columbus with Ohio State.
“I truly feel we have been blessed by Penn State. They did a lot of things for us. The community is great here. And it’s just this is a place you’ll never, ever forget. I feel this wasn’t just a stepping stone for my dad, it was a stepping stone for each of our lives, my older brother, my sister, my mom and me. Without Penn State, I don’t know where I’d be today. We owe Penn State a lot and we know that and that’s something we hold dear to our hearts.”
On what this will be like now, with his dad at Ohio State and his children as Penn State grads
“It’s funny how life treats you. At Penn State, you hate Ohio State and you hate Michigan. But I can remove myself, because now I’m just a fan more than anything else. I went to Penn State, but when family goes somewhere else, that’s who you stand behind. You’re not on one side of the fence and my dad on the other side.
“I remember in high school – this is who my dad is – I got an offer from Michigan. And I was like, ‘Michigan is a great place.’ And my dad told me, ‘You’re not going to break this family up over the Big Ten. Either go to Penn State or go somewhere else.’ And I was like, ‘OK, I’m signed, sealed and delivered. I’m coming to Penn State.’ My dad said, ‘We don’t have room for two teams in the Big Ten.’”
On talking to his former college roommate Adam Taliaferro, whom he still talks to every day. Taliaferro was seriously injured on a tackle at Ohio State in 2000, paralyzed at the time before learning to walk again
“He visits back at Ohio State a lot, from the injury he suffered, and he just kind of said, “Can you believe how this is all taking shape?’
“When this opportunity happened, I had to sit back and say, ‘Hey, go win a national championship and ride off into the sunset.’ My dad won high school championships and we’ve been successful here at Penn State, but I think getting a national title would be great.”